Literacy 2023: Book 7: Moriarty

Anthony Horowitz’s mystery adventure set immediately after Sherlock Holmes and his nemesis fell to their deaths at Reichenbach Falls

Moriarty by Anthony Horowitz

A Pinkerton detective arrives in Europe shortly after the climax of the story “The Final Problem,” in which Sherlock Holmes and his nemesis Professor Moriarty had fallen to their deaths at Reichenbach Falls. There, he meets a Detective Inspector from Scotland Yard who appears to be as brilliant a detective as Holmes himself. The two return to England to track down the mysterious American who’d replaced Moriarty as the mastermind of all crime in London.

Every bit as engaging readable as everything else I’ve read from Horowitz. Much like his entries in the new James Bond series, you get the sense that Horowitz either loves these classic characters and the worlds of their adventures, or else he’s astonishingly good at faking it. He doesn’t try to ape Arthur Conan Doyle’s style (at least for long), but instead captures the tone and mood of the original stories while giving them a more modern and action-oriented plot.

Difficult to say anything about it without spoiling one aspect of it or another. The famous moments of deduction here don’t land as well as they did in the original stories. The central mystery — or at least, what I’m assuming is the central mystery — isn’t particularly satisfying, since there aren’t enough suspects to make it that interesting.

Anthony Horowitz continues to be one of the most dependable authors of interesting and engaging logic puzzle mysteries, frequently with some meta-aspect that makes them especially fascinating. Moriarty was a fun read, but I have to admit that it might be the least satisfying mystery novel that I’ve read by Horowitz. But then, I’ve never been that much of a fan of the original Sherlock Holmes stories, either.

Raiders of the Lost AARP

A few random thoughts about Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny, and the series as a whole

I liked Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny. It kept up the formula of the series — which is proudly and iconically a celebration of formulaic moviemaking — without feeling like a retread. And it did a good job of completing the arc1No pun intended for its main character, bringing his story to a conclusion in a way that felt meaningful, but without getting in the way of the fact that these are action movies first and foremost.

But that’s after a day of thinking about it and watching videos about it. As I was watching it, I didn’t get it at all.

Usually when I’m critical of a movie’s plotting, it’s because I feel like I understand what the movie’s writers are trying to do, or where they’re trying to get to, but it doesn’t make sense for the characters in the moment. With Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny, it was the complete opposite: at pretty much every step of the way, I understood the characters’ motivations, but I was left baffled as to why the movie was making the choices it did.

Continue reading “Raiders of the Lost AARP”
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    No pun intended

Here Come the Sobs

My overly emotional experience seeing The Beatles LOVE show by Cirque du Soleil

Before last week, I’d never seen a Cirque du Soleil show, and didn’t know much about it except that it’s got acrobats and dancers in a ton of make-up, and that middle-aged white people absolutely lose their shit over it.

Now that I’ve seen their show LOVE at The Mirage in Las Vegas, I can assert that both of those things are true. I spent an hour and a half surrounded by beautiful people doing the most amazing feats of physicality I’ve ever seen in person, and as a middle-aged white person myself, I was completely wrecked by the end of it.

Actually, that’s underselling it; I was devastated by the whole thing. The show has an intentionally chaotic opening as the performers move across the stage, giving everyone in the audience something different to look at — there’s a penny farthing! A VW Beetle! Hey look, mods! — and the music is ostensibly a remix/medley of “Get Back” and “Glass Onion” that reminds you just how much amazing music the Beatles put out. As I was turning my head to look at trapeze artists overhead, I felt something wet. I reached up to touch my face — like a doomed character in a TV series realizing their nose is bleeding — and I found that I’d already started involuntarily crying.

This was like maybe five minutes into a 90 minute show. I seriously needed to pace myself.

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I Had No Idea What Was In Store

My visit to Omega Mart in Las Vegas was a welcome surprise

Last weekend we took a post-birthday trip to Las Vegas, and it turned out to be fantastic. I’m not a particularly big fan of Vegas, and I hadn’t visited in at least fifteen years, so we had a few specific things on the agenda: I wanted to see the Neon Museum, the Cirque du Soleil Beatles show1Watch this blog for updates!, and Meow Wolf’s Omega Mart.

Since I’m possibly the last person among my friends, coworkers, and general peer group to see Omega Mart, I’d seen quite a bit about it beforehand. The premise seemed like something I’d be into — a weird supermarket hiding tons of secrets behind its shelves. This is a location-based entertainment/art installation. I know this!

As it turns out, I had no idea. I’ve been hearing for years how neat Omega Mart is, and I still went away thinking that all of that praise was actually under-selling it.

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    Watch this blog for updates!

One Thing I Like About Diablo 4

Leveling up in Diablo 4 is one of dozens of moments of carefully orchestrated bad-assery

I feel like I’m supposed to mention up front that I’ve got a friend who worked on Diablo 4, even though it won’t make a difference in what I’m writing about the game, I’m not a game reviewer, and I’ve got a new policy where I don’t waste time writing about stuff I don’t like when there’s so much stuff that I do like.

After I tried the open beta, I said that I was impressed enough by the game’s introduction that I was re-considering my belief that story is superfluous in Diablo games. As much as I love these games — I have bought at least two versions of every entry so far, across multiple platforms and remasters — I’ve always had this condescending idea that all of the art and lore and such are just fancy dressing on a random number generator.

Now that I’ve played through that opening sequence three times1Once in the open beta, and then again for two new characters in the full game, I’m not so sure that it holds up as well to repeat viewings. It’s still extremely well done, but this is a game that encourages you to create multiple characters, but then puts them into a story that ostensibly relies on surprise and discovery. I was starting to fear that the game had gotten so much larger than its simpler action-RPG roots that it had succumbed to the scourge of ludo-narrative dissonance.

Continue reading “One Thing I Like About Diablo 4”
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    Once in the open beta, and then again for two new characters in the full game

Uncertain Point of View

There’s no one right way to do Star Wars (unless, of course, it’s the way that I like)

Last week, I had a longer-than-usual wait in the queue for Star Tours at Disneyland, so I got to see more of the pre-show loop than I have since FastPass was introduced. I was reminded both of how clever and how goofy it is. More than that, I was struck by how it’s so tonally different from Galaxy’s Edge, even though they’re both in the same park, with the same IP, and even ostensibly have the same premise.

For me, an adult who’s spent an excessive amount of his life thinking about Star Wars, it made me realize how I’ve so often had a hard time “reading” it. I’ve always taken for granted that the Galaxy’s Edge version is the “proper” version: there’s plenty of room for pulpy adventure and comic relief, but overall it’s intended to be taken seriously.

After all, it’s modern mythology, isn’t it? I always thought it was supposed to be like a more-accessible Dune: straight-faced sci-fi fantasy with a shot of mysticism, but without Dune’s complexity and complete lack of humor.1Now I’m wondering if Dune was meant to be taken seriously. Is all of this an elaborate joke, and I’ve just been punked since the 1970s? Then there’s stuff like Jar-Jar Binks and the rest of the Gungans, and the Ewoks, and the various things that seem like juvenile or clumsy attempts to inject comedy relief into what is otherwise Very Serious Business.

As I’ve lamented several times before, it’s made me perpetually wonder if, now that I’m in my 50s, it’s past time for me to put aside childish things. I know plenty of people around my age who’ve concluded that the entire business is you know, for kids and doesn’t warrant the kind of attention that some of us still give to it. At times, I’ve concluded that it’s gotten to be so all-encompassing that Star Wars is now nothing more than a particular aesthetic.

But whether it’s because I’m a Gen-Xer, or if it’s just something peculiar to me: few things unnerve me more than the sense that I might not be in on the joke.

So my world was rocked a couple of years ago when the guy who voiced the Joker “confirmed” a bit of trivia, saying that George Lucas originally wanted the Looney Toons short Duck Dodgers in the 24th 1/2 Century to play before Star Wars in theaters. It would’ve been a clue that the movie wasn’t intended to be taken entirely seriously. It would’ve been nice to have heard that like forty years ago!

In any case: with Galaxy’s Edge and the popularity of the Andor series, and the animated series aiming for long story arcs and “more mature” storylines, it’s felt as if the trend in Star Wars has been to treat it as a serious setting. Or at least, to choose aspects of the setting and its aesthetic and use it to tell Grown-Up stories.

And I’m not going to say They’re Doing It Wrong — certainly not with Galaxy’s Edge, which I still love — but it would be a shame if that were to become the “preferred” way to do Star Wars, because I think the goofiness and absurdity is an essential part of what makes Star Wars work, at least as much as weathering, LEDs, and sideburns.

I’ve had a difficult time articulating exactly why I love The Mandalorian so much, most often ending up with “I just think it’s neat is all.” But I’m realizing that a lot of it is because it so confidently skips over the surface of believability, very rarely giving any indication to the audience that it’s aware of how absurd it all is. All the stunt casting and silly moments aren’t aberrations; they’re essential parts of what makes it feel so much like this is my Star Wars. Yes to the Thundercat cameo! Yes to The Mods! Yes to the Mandalorians choosing to live on a desolate planet where their children are frequently eaten by dinosaurs!

My friend Jake pointed out that Galaxy’s Edge, as excellent as it is, reminds guests that actually living in Star Wars would be more of a drag than an adventure. It’s always weird to me to see kids and families interacting with the Stormtroopers and Kylo Ren, with everyone laughing, having fun, and taking photos with murderous fascists.

I think the part that I’m forgetting is that we’re a few hundred feet away from New Orleans Square, with its rides celebrating death, murder, and human trafficking; and Fantasyland, which has rides in which children are poisoned, sold into slavery (after being transformed to donkeys), or threatened with murder by dismembered pirates. The “fascists” in this fantasy don’t have anything to do with politics; they are The Bad Guys. It’s only because of years of seeing pop culture become ever more obsessed with analyzing and examining itself, that we’ve grown to believe that everything needs to have a deeper meaning. Sometimes adventure stories need Bad Guys.

That’s something else that I think The Mandalorian gets across so well — the galaxy is brutal and unfair, and everything and everyone is relentlessly trying to murder our heroes. (And our adorable leading man contributes to the brutality by constantly eating a helpless frog woman’s children). Instead of getting introspective about it, they all just shrug and say “Taungsdays, amirite?” and then go about their business. It would be a miserable life if it weren’t a fantastic adventure story.

Recently I started up Jedi: Fallen Order for the third time, after two previous failed attempts. The opening is just a fantastic sequence of world-building and place-setting combined with a tutorial using some amazing, huge set pieces. Once again, I was inclined to make the old joke about how The Empire is just a nightmare of OSHA violations — it’s bad enough that nothing in the Death Star has railings, but the construction site at the beginning of Fallen Order is full of precarious ledges that require death-defying acrobatics simply to navigate. And the whole thing is perched over an absolute behemoth of a sarlacc-type monster, eager to digest anything or anyone that happens to fall into it.

And once again, I was reminded that I haven’t made some clever, insightful new observation; the dangerous absurdity is an essential part of it. None of this stuff is supposed to be practical, or even to make sense; it just needs to look cool and be part of a cool story. It’s nice to be reminded that not everything is hung up about whether you’re laughing with it or laughing at it; all that matters is that you’re having fun and that you’re laughing.

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    Now I’m wondering if Dune was meant to be taken seriously. Is all of this an elaborate joke, and I’ve just been punked since the 1970s?

One Thing I Like About Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse

I liked that the movie had the confidence to slow down and be quiet

I’ll come out as a grouch right of the bat: I didn’t like Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse nearly as much as the first movie.1To be clear, when I say “the first movie,” I mean Into the Spider-Verse, and not that one with the naked guy running in profile.

That’s to be expected, though: Into the Spider-Verse was a once-in-a-generation masterpiece. It seemed to come out of nowhere and not just do every single thing right, but to be so relentlessly imaginative that it tricked you into believing that anything was possible.

And the moments when Across the Spider-Verse works best are truly astonishing. It is near-flawless technically and artistically, seemingly designed and art directed with the overriding rule being that absolutely nothing would be dismissed because it was too difficult, or because it didn’t fit.

It builds on that feeling of confidence that made the first movie so exciting: mixing and matching art and animation styles not just between universes, but between characters and even between shots in the same scene. You can see the sketch marks and guide lines on some characters, the crisp lines on others, and more than one is made from paper or newsprint2And for two completely different story reasons!. When it’s working, the movie captures that feeling of “anything goes” experimentation from comic books, but applied to animation.3The various comic book-style captions from the “editor” explaining throwaway gags or blink-and-you’ll-miss-it references were an especially nice touch.

But still I was a bit disappointed simply because I could see the seams in this one. Into the Spider-Verse was relentlessly inventive but also felt “tight,” as if every detail and every stray idea was in the movie for a reason. Plus it never insulted the audience’s (or at least my) intelligence: you pretty much figured out things at the same time as the characters did, and there were no overly drawn-out revelations, or twists meant to blow your mind that you’d seen coming a mile away. Across the Spider-Verse was frustrating at points, because I was either wanting it to hurry up and get to the point already, or because I was wanting it to just calm down and be quiet for a second.

So much of it was manic. I felt like the first movie was able to throw everything together and make it all work, while the second often felt over-stuffed to me. It often seemed like the team knew they had made a masterpiece, and were now desperately trying not just to recapture lightning in a bottle, but to stretch it out into a franchise, Peter Jackson-style, even if it didn’t fit the story.

But this post is supposed to emphasize what I liked about the movie, and what I especially liked were the moments when it stopped the chase scenes and the constant one-liners and asides, and used all its artistic mastery not to overwhelm, but to just tell a story.

The beginning is excellent, deliberately deviating from the format of the first movie’s manic introductions (with a self-referential first line setting up exactly that) to re-introduce characters and introduce one of the main themes of the movie: that these stories are about characters defined by tragedy. It worked wonderfully and was one of the highlights of the entire movie, combining art and music and melodrama and humor in a way that only this series has been able to pull off.

There’s a lengthy scene with Miles and his mother that had me in tears, just because it was such a fearlessly earnest (but not quite maudlin) description of how much a mother can love her son, and the inevitable sadness that comes from realizing that letting a child reach their full potential means losing a huge part of them.

But my favorite scene in the movie is one fairly late in the movie, when (mild spoiler) Gwen returns to her home and has an extended conversation with her father. The scene itself is well performed by the actors, although I don’t think it’s quite as powerful as the one between Rio and Miles. But what makes it so remarkable is that every single aspect of the scene goes towards expressing all the emotion contained in the scene. The backgrounds gain and lose detail. The characters shift between more and less sketchy, full clarity to black shadow, as their moods change. The entire color palette of the scene changes with the characters’ emotional state.

It feels as experimental as the pinnacle of the most inventive Warner Bros shorts, but all in the context of a feature film, and all for a purpose.

I guess that it’s good that I didn’t like Across the Spider-Verse quite as much — and to be clear, it’s like the difference between a B+ and an A++ — because Into the Spider-Verse was almost too perfect in execution. Since these movies are so technically proficient and seemingly capable of absolutely anything, it’s nice to be reminded that there are real, talented, artists behind it all, trying to express something real and personal.

  • 1
    To be clear, when I say “the first movie,” I mean Into the Spider-Verse, and not that one with the naked guy running in profile.
  • 2
    And for two completely different story reasons!
  • 3
    The various comic book-style captions from the “editor” explaining throwaway gags or blink-and-you’ll-miss-it references were an especially nice touch.

Literacy 2023: Book 6: Hallowe’en Party

A Hercule Poirot mystery from 1969 that will form the basis of the next movie, inexplicably

Hallowe’en Party by Agatha Christie

When a teenage girl is murdered at a Hallowe’en Party, one of the guests calls on her old friend Hercule Poirot to help solve the case. Finding the killer will require Poirot to interview everyone in the small town even tangentially related to the party, as well as looking into several unsolved murders in the town’s history.


  • Has the confidence of the books written after Christie had proven herself and met with great success, where she was free to be a little experimental with style and pacing instead of purely focused on plot
  • Character-driven, with a little less emphasis placed on Poirot and his eccentricities, in favor of letting the other characters assert their personalities
  • Written in 1969, so parts of it feel jarringly contemporary. It’s fascinating to read an Agatha Christie novel expecting England in the 30s or 40s, and instead see characters complaining about how computers are ruining everything


  • Felt oddly like Christie’s heart wasn’t in the murder mystery; it feels as if she were really wanting to write a novel about these characters and their relationships, but was obligated to have a mystery running through it
  • The clues do eventually all come together, although it’s not in a particularly satisfying way. The feeling is less “a-HA!” and more “Okay, sure, I guess.”
  • Everybody is surprisingly cruel about the murder victim and nonchalant about the killings
  • More an observation than a “con,” but it was weird to see characters in an Agatha Christie openly talking about the possibility that it was a sex crime, or that the murder involved pedophilia and sexual assault. It’s unfair and condescending to Christie, but I always think of her work as being strictly G-rated-but-with-murders

Not one of Agatha Christie’s best, but I thought it was an interesting reminder that she was still cranking out these mysteries in my lifetime. The fact that turns out to be the central hook is compelling, even if the book itself is more pleasant than interesting — that makes it easier to see why it was the basis for a loose adaptation in the upcoming movie.1Although I admit I don’t understand why there’s going to be a third Kenneth Brannagh Poirot movie at all, since I thought the last two weren’t successful?

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    Although I admit I don’t understand why there’s going to be a third Kenneth Brannagh Poirot movie at all, since I thought the last two weren’t successful?

1d10 Things I Love About Dungeons and Dragons: Honor Among Thieves

I wasn’t expecting Honor Among Thieves to become one of my all-time favorite action movies.

I rolled an 8.

1. It has tons of fun with the source material, but never makes fun of it.

I never got the sense that the filmmakers were trying to make Dungeons and Dragons accessible to a wider audience, or to translate it in a way that non-nerds could understand, or use just the trappings of D&D in a tangentially related fantasy movie. Honor Among Thieves seems to say “they saw D&D in the title, they knew what they were getting into,” and just commits to it entirely. Even Marvel didn’t get this right for several years, feeling instead like they had to “ground” comic books in something movie audiences could better appreciate.

There’s not even a hint of embarrassment about the game, or an attempt to bring the game to The Normals, that have plagued so much genre entertainment for as long as I’ve been alive.

2. Maybe the best possible role for Michelle Rodriguez.

Rodriguez always gets to play tough characters, because she’s really good at it, but she never seems to get the chance to be funny. This character is just great, and her performance is perfect — still delivering all of her lines with a combination of anger and annoyance, but also with a perfect understanding of why the context makes it hilarious.

3. It seemed to never take the easier or cheaper way out.

First, it’s fantastic that they used as many practical effects as they did. The CG creatures were almost universally great (especially the dragon), but there was one scene with a cat woman1A Tabaxi, according to the wiki and her kitten that made me say “AWWWWWW” loudly and unashamedly.

But even more than that, I was surprised over and over again when a character would start describing something in flashback, and we’d actually flash back to see it all played out. I thought for sure they’d choose to save the money and just have a character tell the story in the present, but I’ll be damned if they didn’t film every single scene. Even big battle scenes, or special-effect-heavy crowd scenes, or even quick 10-second gags.

4. It always knew what to take seriously and what to have fun with, and it was rarely what I expected.

Honor Among Thieves is relentlessly, genuinely, laugh-out-loud funny, sometimes with a line of dialogue but just as often with a perfectly executed visual gag. But I wouldn’t even go so far as to call it an action-comedy, since its actual story is just as earnest as you’d expect from a more traditional fantasy story, or a more straightforward and predictable action movie. Instead, it stays true to its story, its world, and its characters, and then finds every way it possibly can to make that fun.

As a result, an encounter with a dragon — which is supposed to be one of the most intimidating master-level adversaries in the game — ends up being completely charming, and a genuine threat that takes several moments of inspiration2Both in screenwriting and in D&D terms to get past.

5. It didn’t resort to corny fourth-wall-breaking references to the game, but it did often capture the feel of having to respond to random chance and unexpectedly bad luck.

The entire plot centers on heroes who have to respond to misfortune and find a clever way around it. It’s such a big part of the story that it’s the main character’s super-power. And as a result, you can see the characters have an unexpected bit of luck, followed by what must’ve been a critical failure. All of it presented organically as if it were a natural part of the story, instead of being called out as “this is the part of the movie where we show you what happens when you roll a 1.”

6. Even when I knew what was inevitably going to happen, it still worked perfectly in the moment.

Partly because it nailed that balance between earnest and flippant, but mostly because it was so frequently clever, I felt like the movie earned every single one of its “action movie moments.” Those moments when a magic item is foreshadowed early on, and you just know it’s going to become important during the climax. One of those was so cleverly executed that I never saw it coming. The other, I knew exactly what was going to happen from moment one, but seeing it play out was still completely satisfying. It was all executed so well that it didn’t seem predictable so much as inevitable.

7. Better than many “serious” fantasy movies I’ve seen at depicting what day-to-day life would be like in a world filled with magic.

I almost never like depictions of magic in movies or television, because it always comes across as too rigid in its rules and systems to still be magical, or so completely arbitrary in its rules that it becomes meaningless.

Dungeons and Dragons is one of the main reasons that we even think of magic as having rigid rules and systems in the first place, so I wasn’t expecting anything new here. I admit I did find myself frequently thinking, they’ve already used all their daily spell slots! but it passed quickly as I noticed the interesting ways the story depicted magic as utilitarian but still fantastic.

There’s a clever scene pretty early on that shows us the scale of what people in the Forgotten Realms would find fantastic or surprising, and what wouldn’t impress them at all. (“A five-year-old could do that!”) But even more importantly, the movie establishes that it doesn’t care about the wonder or spectacle of magic as much as the usefulness of it. The most spectacular thing isn’t casting a spell, but finding a clever use for it.

8. It had already won me over early on, so I could just enjoy it in the same way that I used to enjoy movies.

I’d heard plenty of good things about Honor Among Thieves, so I had a good feeling I was going to at least enjoy it. But by the end of the opening sequence, once we’d finally been introduced to Jarnathan, the movie had already won me over. All the hyper-critical parts of my brain happily shut up for a couple of hours and let me watch the movie the way I used to as a teenager.

In fact, every time the movie jumped into a new setting, or set up a new extended action sequence, I kept being reminded of how I felt being at the theater during the “golden age” of action movies when I was a teenager. Seeing things like Raiders of the Lost Ark and Big Trouble in Little China and marveling at how they seemed to keep topping themselves. I thoroughly and completely enjoyed Honor Among Thieves in a way I haven’t enjoyed movies in a very long time.

  • 1
    A Tabaxi, according to the wiki
  • 2
    Both in screenwriting and in D&D terms

Literacy 2023: Book 5: The Twist of a Knife

Getting accused of murder is one of the best things to happen to Anthony Horowitz’s writing!

The Twist of a Knife by Anthony Horowitz

Book 4 in the Hawthorne and Horowitz Investigate series

After the events of A Line to Kill, Anthony Horowitz’s reluctant partnership with irascible detective Daniel Hawthorne is complete, and Horowitz is free to pursue a lifelong dream: having one of his plays produced in London’s West End. But when someone is violently murdered after the play’s opening night, Horowitz is the prime suspect. His only hope is that Hawthorne can find the true killer and clear his name within 48 hours.


  • Completely engaging, even among Horowitz’s consistently entertaining and readable mystery novels
  • The revelation that I consider to be “the twist” — the real reason someone framed Horowitz for murder — was really cleverly done. I never guessed the truth at all, but the clues were all there for the observant reader.
  • Does a great job of juggling lots of sub-plots and individual character intrigue, which serve as kind of a “consolation prize” for piecing together the minor stories, even if you don’t figure out the central mystery.
  • Great balance between good, old-fashioned murder mystery and the meta-gimmick that serves as the premise of the entire series. There’s just enough of the real world to remind the reader that this is ostensibly non-fiction, but not so much that it overwhelms or distracts from the rest of the mystery.
  • Feels like Horowitz has perfectly hit his stride with this series. There are very few of the weird shifts in tone that were in the other books — descriptions of a violent crime scene, a character’s unexpected homophobia, which were presumably included to make the novel read more like true crime.


  • The case against Horowitz isn’t at all convincing, and I had a hard time believing any prosecutor would ever be willing to take it to court. This undercut the tension and honestly made the book feel slightly juvenile.
  • Horowitz has settled on the characterization of himself in this book as being famous and successful enough to be frequently recognized but never respected. I should be used to it by now, but it still comes across as more artificial and a bit annoying instead of self-effacing and charming. (On the other hand, if he’d just gone with “best-selling author with long-running book and TV series” would probably be insufferable).
  • Hawthorne is a little less unlikeable in this one, but I still find the character too irritating to be at all interesting.

The most consistently entertaining and engaging book of the series so far. It doesn’t have the weird novelty of the first book, but it also doesn’t have the strange shifts in tone. I’m clearly hooked on this series, even if I only like or care about one of the main characters.

Literacy 2023: Book 4: Bonk

Mary Roach applies her wry takes on uncomfortable topics to the subject of human sexuality and sex research, and the results are hilarious

Bonk: the Curious Coupling of Science and Sex by Mary Roach

Roach takes an at-times-uncomfortably close look at the various ways that scientists have tried to understand and improve the sex lives of humans.


  • Roach’s comedic timing is at its absolute height here. Overly dry (no pun intended) or uncomfortable passages (ibid) are split up perfectly with an odd or humorous digression, or a well-placed footnote.
  • Full-to-bursting (so to speak) with clever double entendres, and even a lament that some terms have no good synonyms or room for double entendres.
  • Goes even further than other books to advance the studies she writes about, as she and her husband volunteer for a sex study.
  • Mature, modern, and open in a way that I never see, finding the humor and fun in the subject of sex without becoming vulgar or resorting to snickering and lazy gags.
  • Matter-of-factly acknowledges differences in orientation and behavior without even a hint of prudishness.


  • Contains a detailed description of penis surgery. I cannot overstate how stressful this is. (Roach acknowledges this in a footnote, expressing sympathy for biologically male readers and commenting that she noticed her husband had to read some chapters with his legs crossed).
  • Often had me reflexively putting a hand down to protect my business while I was reading.
  • Not really a con, but it spends significantly more time on female sexuality than male (at least partly because female sexuality is more complex at both the physical and psychological levels, and because it’s historically been repressed and misunderstood).

My favorite of Mary Roach’s books that I’ve read so far, interesting and exhaustively (literally) researched while also being laugh-out-loud funny.

One Thing I Like About Quantumania

Spoiler: It’s MODOFK.

Reading reviews about Ant-Man and The Wasp: Quantumania gives me the impression that a lot of critics have negative reviews pre-written, much like celebrity obituaries. Ironically, they complain about the corporate-driven sameness and lack of imagination in every installment, in a way that’s so repetitious and over-familiar that I’m getting deja vu that I’ve made this exact same complaint in previous blog posts about MCU projects.

Somehow, they never seem to mention that it’s corporate-driven content that keeps them submitting reviews for movies that they’re predisposed to dislike. Imagine going back to a pre-Siskel & Ebert/Pauline Kael world, where critics only had to write about things if they had an interesting observation to make!

To be fair: Quantumania does have plenty of signs of Creeping Marvel Fatigue. It never reaches the level of “why exactly does this movie exist, again?” that Eternals did, but it does lapse into the feeling that it’s going through the motions. They’re grand, sweeping, extremely expensive motions, granted, but still.

Continue reading “One Thing I Like About Quantumania”